Development of a method to study the relationship between dogs and owners

Last changed: 11 June 2021
Photo: A dog laying close to a persons legs.

There is evidence of an attachment bond between dogs and their owners in that they seem to support each other in times of distress. So far, this has been studied either from the dog's point of view or from the owner's perspective. Studies suggest that there is a large individual variation in how dogs and owners relate to each other. Hence, the overall aim of this project is to develop methods to investigate the type and quality of dog-owner relationships in a holistic way allowing for more focus on individual differences.

The work is based on theories from human attachment research. Proposed tests involve challenging situations to study how the animal is using the owner as a safe haven and a source of security. Also, detailed studies of the dog's separation and reunion behaviour will be performed since these observations have proven to provide stable measures of relationship styles in humans. Moreover, we are collecting information from the owner about their view of the relationship with their dog as well as how they perceive their relationships with other humans. This latter may reveal links between general owner characteristics and their emotional bond to the dog. An increased understanding about different relationship styles, as well as possible factors contributing to the development of these will increase the welfare of both animals and humans. For example, it may be helpful when rehoming dogs by better matching of dog and owner. It may also increase our chances of identifying at an early stage issues causing problems in a relationship and so be better able to solve such conflicts.

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